August 6, 2013: The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has charged 57- year-old Teofilo Santiago with Arson, Insurance Fraud, Attempted Theft by Deception, Conspiracy and Causing or Risking a Catastrophe for setting his car on fire in an attempt to collect insurance money.
In April of this year, Special Investigators from Nationwide Insurance Company contacted detectives from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Insurance Fraud Unit after receiving a suspected fraudulent vehicle theft claim from Santiago. On the night of March 20, 2013, around 11:30 p.m., Philadelphia police and firefighters responded to a call on the 2700 block of Emerald Street where they discovered a 2004 Nissan Quest fully engulfed in flames under the Conrail railroad tracks. The police officers determined by the VIN number that the vehicle belonged to Teofilo Santiago. Police notified Santiago of the fire, and Santiago reported that reported that his vehicle had been parked at about 9:10 p.m. in front of his residence on the 1800 block of N. 6th Street, and he was unaware that it was missing.
On March 21, 2013, Santiago contacted Nationwide Insurance and reported that his insured vehicle had been stolen, and then recovered by the police as a burnt shell. Santiago described his 2004 Nissan as being in sound mechanical condition with no prior damage. Santiago indicated that his two sets of keys for his Nissan were accounted for at the time of this alleged theft. In addition, Santiago indicated that he never lost any keys to his vehicle, and he never had any additional keys made for the Nissan. Santiago also identified himself as the Pastor of a local Pentecostal Church.
Santiago’s Nissan was examined by the Fire Marshall’s Office where it was determined that the fire originated in the passenger’s compartment of Santiago’s Nissan when an open flame was applied to the combustible material. The fire then extended throughout the passenger compartment to the roof and exterior panels of the Nissan resulting in major damage to the vehicle. The fire was determined to be arson and incendiary in nature.
Santiago’s 2004 Nissan Quest is electronically protected by a factory installed transponder based anti-theft system. A forensic examination of the ignition lock, column lock, and started switch assembly revealed no evidence of force, manipulation, or defeat. The forensic examination determined that a properly cut mechanical key, with the correct transponder code, was used to operate the Nissan.
Nationwide determined that Santiago’s 2004 Nissan was valued at $7,547. As a result of the fire, the damage to the vehicle far exceeded the value and his vehicle is considered a total loss. At the time of the fire and alleged theft, Santiago owed a balance of $4,700 to his lien holder on the Nissan.
On April 15, 2013, a Nationwide Investigator met with Santiago and took a recorded statement concerning the alleged theft of his vehicle. Santiago maintained that his Nissan was in perfect condition when it was allegedly stolen in March. Santiago was presented with the results of the forensic examination. Santiago eventually withdrew his stolen auto claim with Nationwide. Santiago indicated that his Nissan was in poor mechanical condition and needed expensive repairs. Santiago admitted that he conspired with another person to destroy the vehicle, report it stolen, and collect the insurance settlement.
Detectives from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Insurance Fraud Unit arrested Santiago this morning, and he currently being processed by Philadelphia Police. ADA Vicki Markovitz and Detective Donald Murtha of the Insurance Fraud Unit are specially assigned to this case.